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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Western hosts first robotics expo

Western junior and computer science major Alex Benedetto and alumna Kelly Lyon play with legos on Saturday, June 27 at the Whatcom Robotics Expo.   Photo by Alexandra Bartick
Western junior and computer science major Alex Benedetto and alumna Kelly Lyon play with legos on Saturday, June 27 at the Whatcom Robotics Expo. Photo by Alexandra Bartick

Eleven robotics and engineering groups from Bellingham and around Whatcom County gathered together to bring the first Whatcom Robotics Expo to life.

Approximately 25 people attended the Saturday, June 27, event on Western’s campus to view the groups and their various displays that ranged from hands-on electronics and LEGO bricks to posters and information tables.

The expo was created by Kyle Rader, Kelly Lyon and Andrea Frost, who are the co-founders of CodeLily, a computer code school in Bellingham and is located in downtown.

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“We brought in groups from around Bellingham that don’t have those kinds of opportunities, and then also some other groups from here at the college, to sort of showcase, ‘hey, you can get into robotics at a young age. Look at the cool things you can do,’” Rader said.

Both CodeLily and Western put on the event, which consisted of robotics clubs, high school students, and engineers. Opportunities for kids to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math programs were available from each group at the expo.

“We want to help be the connector for all of these different groups and bring visibility into the community as to how many options there are to get kids involved with robotics,” Rader said.

CodeLily’s goal is to start teaching in-person classes to two primary audiences: people who are post college and the K-12 community, Rader said.

One of the groups that attended the expo was Creators & Innovators Club for Girls, which was founded a year ago by former Western student Sydney Cole and two others. This all-girls club from Bellingham was created for middle school girls to gain hands-on experience with robotics.

Cole is a volunteer for Creators & Innovators and a professional programmer. She works with the club to provide a creative and fun experience for the girls who join.

“We thought we’d get only a handful of girls, and we had 60,” Cole said. “It was shocking and really inspirational. Part of it was because it was fun. We tried not to make it intimidating, [but instead] interesting and creative.”

Cole works with the girls to build and create littleBits, which are magnetic, color-coded electronic pieces that connect to one another. littleBits are an easy way for the girls to learn how to build a circuit, Cole said.

Creators & Innovators is not the only club from Bellingham that provides children with robotics and engineering education. Bricks and Beyond, from Bellingham, works with kids ages 6-12 on the basics of robotics by building LEGO models.

“Bricks and Beyond gets kids started in robotics early on,” Rader said. “It’s a great segway for kids to start with Bricks and Beyond then they can go to Creators & Innovators to use more electronics in middle school.”

Kimberly Gustafson is the owner of Bricks and Beyond and is a certified LEGO education academy trainer. Her group showed their LEGO robotics crane and crocodile at their booth during the expo.

Gustafson described the group as a school on wheels. She travels to various places in Bellingham and Whatcom County to teach her program to kids.

Bricks and Beyond offers after school programs, in school field trips and summer camps at Whatcom Community College and the Community Enrichment Center.

“It’s sort of like sticking spinach in a smoothie, the kids don’t know they are getting it,” Gustafson said. “They can fail and know ‘oh, it’s over, I can fix it. I can make it into something important.’”

To grow the technological community in Whatcom County, Rader said CodeLily not only wants to connect and inspire kids, but they want to give the education to those who need it now.

“Our core mission is to inspire and create an inclusive and supportive environment for everyone to learn,” Rader said.

CodeLily, with the help of groups from Western Washington Extended Education, Inner Child Studio and Technology Alliance Group, plan to have another expo next year. CodeLily will also be hosting two summer camps in August and September to provide computer science education for K-12 students and those that want the education, Rader said.

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